Charity leader unfairly dismissed after raising concerns about incoming CEO’s CV

21 Mar 2024 News

Adobe, by Vitalii Vodolazskyi

An employment tribunal has ruled that an interim chief executive of a charity was unfairly dismissed after raising concerns about the CV of the person appointed as their permanent replacement.

Stephen Murdoch had submitted a whistleblowing email to Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust after its appointment of a permanent CEO, highlighting potential inaccuracies in his CV.

An independent investigator was appointed to look into the whistleblowing claims, but the tribunal found that the unnamed successful candidate, “Mr X”, was confirmed as CEO before the investigation concluded.

Murdoch declared his unhappiness and his intention to resign, saying he could not trust the board, did not trust Mr X and was not prepared to work with him, according to the tribunal.

The tribunal ruled that the charity subjected Murdoch to detriments on the grounds that he had made protected interest disclosures.

It also ruled that he was constructively unfairly dismissed.

Tribunal documents state there is a 75% chance that Murdoch would have resigned had the charity not breached his contract.

The compensation to be awarded to Murdoch will be determined at a remedy hearing listed on 9 and 10 April 2024, if not agreed between the parties beforehand. 

Murdoch said: “The publication of this judgment represents a significant milestone in my case but there is still some way to go before matters are fully resolved.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my legal team, David Thomas at Quay Legal and Robin Moira White from Old Square Chambers for their work so far.”

Background to tribunal 

Murdoch was the charity’s chief operating officer from 2018 and was appointed as interim chief executive upon the sudden resignation of the former CEO in February 2021, after 12 years of service.

Trustees at Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust considered whether Murdoch should be appointed as the permanent CEO but were concerned by his “relative lack of experience both as a charity fundraiser and as a chief executive in the charity field” so decided that the role should be advertised on the open market.

There was then a recruitment process for a permanent chief executive and 140 people applied for the role and six were shortlisted, including Murdoch.

Mr X submitted a CV which stated he had been employed by another charity from April 2013 to August 2017 as director of fundraising and communications but the tribunal heard that was misleading because he took voluntary redundancy on 19 December 2016.

He had also stated that he grew the income for the other charity from £1.1m to £2.9m in three years but the tribunal heard its turnover only increased to £1.46m in that time.

Murdoch asked to see Mr X’s CV after a colleague highlighted the potential inaccuracies.

Tribunal documents show a trustee at the charity emailed other trustees saying he did not think the inaccuracies would have made any difference to the employment process.

The claimant submitted a whistleblowing email which alleged that the making of an unconditional offer of employment without having made appropriate employment checks was potentially a failure to exercise reasonable skill, care and diligence.

Charity backs appointed CEO

A statement from the board of trustees at Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust said it had asked for “a number of corrections to the judgment, and we are awaiting the response from the judge on these”.

“The board of trustees have always been, and continue to be, wholly supportive of our CEO and believe he has demonstrated in the last two and a half years exceptional commitment to the charity, its staff, volunteers and donors, helping our teams deliver outstanding impact and results,” it says.
“Each of us as trustees are volunteers and we always aim to do everything in the best interests of the charity. We are also human, and we don’t always get it right, and on this occasion some mistakes were made that led to us losing some elements of this case.

“We have kept the Charity Commission informed throughout, we have begun a thorough review of all board governance, and we have also begun the process of recruiting a new chair and a number of new trustees.”

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have opened a compliance case into Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, to examine general governance concerns, and have begun to engage with the trustees on this matter.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with additional comment.

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